dawg by fireIn general (she said, looking around wildly for wood to touch) this little corner of Adverse Camber is sheltered from the worst of the autumn storms. Further down the hill, where Wingfield Road crosses Main Street, the buildings form a wind tunnel and when there’s a Force Six blowing from the north west, Winged Victory atop the war memorial has been known to rock alarmingly on her footings, threatening those unwise enough to be in the vicinity with an untimely and unfortunate death. People regularly get to their feet at Parish Council meetings and say Something Must Be Done, but Victory rocks on while everybody nods solemnly in agreement, writes Important Things in year planners and then moves on to something more pressing and less expensive, like what colour to paint the park railings.

Up at the top end of Wingfield Road however the contours of the land and the height of the surrounding trees and ancient hedges are such that my cottage is protected from nearly all directions – which isn’t to say that I don’t get buffeted by the winds – just that I’m less likely than many to end up chasing bits of my roof down the road.

It was a little blustery the other night, but I was tucked up in the living room in front of the fire with a book and a pot of tea and smugly certain that no harm would befall me in my cosy  sanctuary.

And that’s when I heard it …

When you’ve lived in a house for a while, you can identify every sound it makes, from the groan of the floorboards as the central heating cools down or heats up and the creak of the conservatory  as it dries out after rain to that irritating branch outside the window which you keep meaning to get the secateurs to, but always forget about until the next time it comes rat-tat-tatting on the glass. But THIS sound was none of those. This was something I’d never heard before … a sort of rhythmic  ‘hurrgg-urrgg ’ which seemed to be coming from the direction of the fireplace.

Carefully stepping over the Old Lady Dog, who was fast asleep on a pile of blankets and pillows in front of the fire, I listened for a while. I cocked my head to one side to try and pinpoint the precise location of the sound. I moved around. I even pressed my ear against the wall (which was a daft thing to do, given that it’s about two feet thick).

Eventually, I decided that it must be coming either from outside the house or actually IN the chimney. I tried to tell myself that whatever it was, it was unlikely I could do anything about it until morning, but another little voice was saying, ‘If it’s something minor and you CAN fix it, you can stop worrying about it, and you might prevent worse damage.’

I looked at Boy Dog, who was upside down on the settee with his feet in the air and his head buried under a cushion. The Old Lady Dog slept on undisturbed. Plainly neither of them could hear anything untoward, as they can be relied on to bark the place down if they hear a hedgehog sneeze two gardens away …

The rain was beating against the windows. That bloody branch was tapping on the casement in the dining room. The back door was rattling on the latch. I didn’t want to go outside but I knew I’d never settle until I did, so I donned wellies, mackintosh and sou’wester, grabbed a torch and plodded out into the wet, the wind and the darkness.

When you’re out in a storm of course, all you can hear is the wind – but that didn’t stop me from standing foolishly outside the living room window and listening for the ‘hurrgg-urrgg’ sound. Inside the room – which looked so very warm and comfy and inviting  – Boy Dog was sitting up on the settee, gazing at me with his bleary eyes half-closed, his mouth snagged up on one side and an expression which plainly said, ‘You have GOT to be joking.’ The Old Lady Dog, of course, hadn’t moved.

Trying to tuck my head into my shoulders to stop the water from running down my neck, I went around the side of the house to examine the chimney – one of those external ones, which look as if they were tacked on as an afterthought. So intent was I on peering upwards that I completely failed to notice the wheelbarrow, full of weeds, that I’d abandoned when the rain had arrived earlier in the day. It was now a wheelbarrow full of weeds and water, and as such had become an immoveable object. In a straight contest between it and me, there was only ever going to be one winner. Attention fixed at roof level, I backed into the barrow. It caught me just behind the knees, dumping me unceremoniously onto the soggy brambles, nettles and alchemilla mollis within. I sat there for a moment in the wind and rain and thought, ‘Well, that could have been worse’ … which is when the whole thing started to topple slowly sideways as one leg sank  into the muddy ground.

I landed on my backside in the ooze and in one smooth movement, the sodden contents of the barrow slid inexorably into my lap.

Drenched, filthy, scratched and stung, I admitted defeat (I mean, I can take a hint as well as the next person …) and dragged my tragic self back into the house. where I peeled my outer layers of clothing off and stood for a moment in the doorway to the living room. The sound was still there … ‘hurrg-urrgg ’ … ‘hurrgg-urrgg ’ … ‘hurrgg-urrgg

I ignored it.  ‘I’m going to take a bath,’ I announced to the dogs. (Yes, I always talk to the dogs as if they’re people – do you want to make something of it?)

The sound stopped. The Old Lady Dog raised her head from the blankets and looked at me in her usual blank fashion. Then, deciding that I didn’t come bearing cheese, chicken or even dog biscuits, she wriggled a little further into the blankets and pillows and went back to sleep.

And started snoring again.

hurrg-urrgg ’ … ‘hurrgg-urrgg ’ … ‘hurrgg-urrgg


I Bark, Therefore I Am.

guardianMy attitude to gardening isn’t so much laid-back as completely supine. If a sunflower seeds itself in the rockery, I leave it to do its thing in peace. If a poppy sprouts from that crack in the patio I never got around to filling in, then I grow a poppy in my patio. Moss, daisies and dandelions in my lawn worry me not – after all, they’re all green when they’re mown.

My laissez-faire attitude extends to the local wildlife. I feed the birds. I knock holes in the bottom of my fence panels so that the hedgehogs can rampage around unhindered. I even smile benignly upon the rats in the meadow, the wasps building their nest around the back of the old pigpen and the mammoth spider in the outside loo.

Recently, however, I haven’t been feeling the love towards rabbits.

I have a garden full of green stuff they can eat. I grow clover around the pond for the bees. I have wild borders and uncultivated tracts absolutely bulging with yummy bunny fodder, but what is it I’ve been finding dug up and nibbled back to a leafless stump every morning? My lovely, jolly marigolds and my ‘hides a multitude of sins’ nasturtiums.

I tried dangling old CDs from strings between bamboo canes, to twist and glitter in the sun and frighten the simple-minded: they sneered at them. I tried festooning the beds with black nylon thread entanglements to startle and confuse and convince them they’d be better off feeding somewhere else: they just blundered straight through them and then, to add insult to injury, left the thread lying invisibly on the lawn so that it snarled itself around the mower blades.

Finally, broken by the sight of my third seeding of nasturtiums being treated like cut-and-come-again salad by the buck-toothed little sociopaths, I let loose the dogs of war. Why keep Jack Russells and not expect them earn their tripe mix and choccy drops? That was my new, murderous mantra. The moment I spotted so much as a twitching nose in the undergrowth, I yelled “RABBITS!” and flung the back door open.

With most Jack Russells, instinct cuts in as soon as they see/hear/smell/even half way suspect the presence of a prey animal; they take off, a little hairy blur of legs and teeth, and deal instant death to any small furry intruders foolish enough to dawdle in their flight path.

My two, however, aren’t most Jack Russells. The Boy Dog gets so over-excited that his nose shuts down and his brain turns to mush. He hurtles out of the door, barking wildly, then rockets off in completely the wrong direction. And even if he does accidentally get anywhere close to a rabbit, he just shoots straight past it –  a bug-eyed berserker high on adrenaline. To make matters worse, the rabbits seem to know. Instead of running for their lives, they just hop into the long grass until he’s exhausted himself and collapsed into a panting, slobbering heap on the patio – and then they carry on as if nothing untoward has happened.

On the other hand the Old Girl considers it beneath her dignity to chase anything. Her response to the cry of ‘RABBITS!’ is to stand outside the back door for a few moments watching the Boy Dog going bonkers, then   sedately trot down the steps and around to the front of the house to bark at the gate. She doesn’t bark AT anything, you understand. She just barks. It’s what she does. When she finally goes off to the Great Kennel in the Sky, I shall write the words “I bark, therefore I am” on her gravestone.

The locals are so used to hearing me yelling at her to be quiet that one small girl is firmly convinced I have a dog called ‘SHUT UP’. I know this because when she goes past the gate with her mother, she greets the Old Girl cheerily with the words ‘Hello Shut Up’.

Today, it being warm and sunny, I was out in the garden in a death grip with the goosegrass that’s threatening to strangle my carefully nurtured blackberries. The dogs came out with me. The Boy Dog soon became bored with following me around – especially as I wouldn’t let him eat, chase or destroy anything – and retreated to the house to lie in the utility and look mournful. The Old Girl, however, loves nothing better than wrapping herself around my feet so that she can stick her nose where it isn’t wanted and then complain piercingly when she gets stepped on or kicked; and that’s where she was, or at least where I thought she was, when I spotted a furry intruder in the nasturtiums. In broad daylight. Not five yards from me. Eating my garden.

‘Rabbit,’ I said to the Old Girl. ‘RABBIT!’

Nothing happened. I looked down. She wasn’t there. I looked around and eventually spotted her over by the summerhouse, digging up my marigolds.

‘Nooooo!!!’ I screamed at her. ‘Traitor!!!’

She lifted her head briefly to gaze up at me, then, apparently deciding that I wasn’t offering her any food, carried on digging. The Boy Dog appeared at the back door, attracted by the commotion.

‘RABBIT,’ I bellowed at him. ‘RABBIT!!’

And he hurtled off in the wrong direction.